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Nov 30, 2013

Pay, Spray, Bidet: Morbier

THE STORY:

So, if there isn't nature around, nor a McDonald's, what is a person supposed to do when nature calls? It's a real problem in Paris, where there are very few public bathrooms. You can buy something cheap at a café and use the restroom there. Or, you can hope you come across one of the public, automatically self-cleaning bathroom kiosks, officially called sanisettes but mostly just referred to as toilettes



When Anthony and I were in Paris for our fact-finding trip before we moved here, he saw somebody come out of one, and assumed it was his turn to go in. The next thing I know, there's this frantic yelping and pounding on the inside buttons. It turns out he'd entered just in time for the rinse cycle, and he came running out, "Aach! I've been hosed!" Naturally, sympathetic wife that I am, I can no longer even see one of these kiosks without giggling, but today we finally figure out how to use one of these -- properly, that is:

There are four lights. The one on the right indicates when it's "Out of Service" so it's primarily the left three that we're concerned with. When somebody is in there, the middle yellow light illuminates. When they come out, do not make the mistake of going right in. The next cycle is the blue-light "Wash Cycle". Wait till that light goes off and the left-most green light comes on, indicating it's both vacant and ready. You'll notice that the buttons are labeled in French, Spanish, and English, and there are further instructions only in English (presumably because the natives know how to use one) yet even then Anthony gets sprayed. 


Don't hold your breath looking for one (you may, however, want to hold your breath while you're in it. Recently self-cleaned, but not exactly the Ritz...). These automatic toilets are generally free, although many of the public restrooms do charge something. As a general rule, public bathrooms are not only less plentiful but much, much more disgusting than those in the States. Bring your own hand-gel; soap dispensers are optional.

Of course, if you do go the Ritz, you may get a bidet. That's what everybody expects, and while this may have been the norm ages ago, I can't say I've been in any house that actually has a bidet in the bathroom. In fact, of the 40 or so apartments I saw while apartment-hunting, I only saw one that had a bidet. When we were in Croatia, on the other hand, our Soviet-era hotel had a bidet, and both Pippa and Gigi drenched their outfits experimenting with it. Not actually a good cleaning tool, but certainly an excellent source of entertainment.

And so, in conclusion (horrible upcoming pun warning; avert your eyes if you must): Bathrooms here are a real crapshoot.
 
THE CHEESE: Morbier
 
 
This cheese looks much scarier than it is. The streak in the cheese used to be made of ash, to protect the morning cheese forming below, while waiting for a secondary layer of evening milk. So it is not, nor has it ever been, a huge stripe of black mold. Now the streak is there not for practical purposes but rather because that's what identifies it as morbier. No longer ash, they now use a vegetable product described in the Encycolpédie des Fromages as "inoffensive and purely decorative." It's a cow cheese made either from raw or pasteurized milk, from Eastern France, in the Franche-Comté, near the Swiss border. It's one of the cheeses that is available in the U.S. -- for example Zabar's in NYC or Say Cheese in San Francisco -- partly because it's so famous and partly because it can be made from pasteurized milk in large, industrial (as well as small, artisanal) batches.
 
The rind is too leathery to eat (or, at least, to enjoy), but the inside has a texture I call rubbery-creamy, which is not actually a bad thing. It doesn't spring back on your teeth like a really rubbery cheese, but it doesn't exactly melt either. It's just between the two. This is a cheese I love to look at, but don't actually love to eat. Somehow, the flavor disappoints me by being more conservative than its appearance.
 
THE CONNECTION:
 
Well, it rhymes, of course. But more to the point: Like public toilets, Morbier smells. Which is not to say that it smells like a public toilet. Just that it's got a well-deserved reputation as a stinky French cheese. I predict that Chanel will not be coming out with Eau de Morbier any time soon, and it's a good thing, because I wouldn't want to be sprayed by morbier. Or a toilet.

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